Thursday, July 12, 2012

Individual Contribution to the Team

The Japanese first grade classroom is chaotic.  These young people are somewhat babyish, but also sometimes robust.  Whenever I pick up my daughter, little individuals swarm around me and start talking to me in the highest pitch.  Their teacher doesn't seem being bothered by them.  She keeps herself busy grading papers at her desk.  This continues until she says, "Say good-by to your friend!"  All these unsettled crabs in the metal bucket turn into the "controlled chaos" with boys' and girls' unison, "Sayonara". 

It is also amazing to observe that helpers of a day lead their morning meeting for 15 minutes while all teachers are at their morning meeting in the teachers' room.  A couple of first grade helpers are independent without their classroom teacher.  Japanese public schools' supervision is somewhat looser than ours, however,  it is amazing to witness how the school trains young children's leadership on a daily bases.  In addition, the end of a day, the daily helpers, again, come up to the front of the classroom to lead the closing meeting to review of a day. 

Four first grade teachers' collaboration is evident as well as students' independence.  All four first grade classrooms, approximately 120 students, take swimming lessons together as a part of physical education curriculum.  One lead teacher give instructions in the middle of the swimming pool.  Other three teachers help understand the direction to their own classes.  When the activity starts, four classroom teachers teach in small groups or individual students of their own classrooms.  Kids are all so excited.  Sometimes the water is too cold.  But most kids line up in a single file and take turns.  One of the activities is the Treasure Hunt.  All classes compete against each other which class would get the most treasures by looking under the water.  Students in the water are enthusiastic and try to grab as many treasures as they can.   Half of their classmates are cheering for their team by the pool side.  At the end of the game, each class count the number of treasures as high as one hundred nine (!), which is obviously appropriate in the first grade.  The lead teacher announces the winning class.  The winning class exclaims, "Banzai!"  The other classes applaud without complaints.  Everybody is smiling.  All students know that the great teamwork deserves the best.

Here is another example.  Students and school staff all together clean a whole school once a day.  Their assignments are classrooms, hallways, front yard, gym, teacher's room, court yard, and even toilets!  A whole students body are divided and assigned each place.  This elementary school organize the cleaning groups by using "cross grade level".  For example, 2 students from each 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classroom work together as a team.  This daily cross-grade-level interaction is another leadership opportunity for the older grade students.  Younger kids watch the older students (Younger ones call them, Older Brother and Older Sister) as a model so they will be prepared as their grade goes up.  Among different age groups, they develop respect, compassion, and appropriate communication while their school is getting clean. 

Promoting leadership and team work in the learning community is essential.  We, as educators, must brainstorm our ways and activities to promote these important life skills in our education system.  The collaboration opportunities must be regular basis among children and adults.  I would love to help my students' self esteem and compassion in the team.  Their inner fulfillment will definitely effect on their academic achievement.